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    The Difference Between Nihonshu (Sake) and Wine

    15 Apr 2021

    Same Production Method But One Big Difference

    Brewed alcohol is made by fermenting grains and fruits with the power of yeast to produce alcohol. However, there is a big difference between sake and wine in this fermentation process.

    In order for the yeast to ferment alcohol, sugar is required. Grapes, the key ingredient for wine, originally contain sugar, so if yeast is added, fermentation will proceed directly. This is called "simple fermentation". On the other hand, rice, the key ingredient of sake, does not contain any sugar, so it is necessary to convert the starch in the rice into sugar (glucose) with the help of koji mold so that yeast could later convert glucose into alcohol. This type of fermentation is called "multiple parallel fermentation".

    Beer, which is also made by brewing process just  like sake and wine, does not contain sugar, so the saccharification of starch and alcoholic fermentation by yeast occur in two distinct steps. In the case of beer, these processes occur in separate tanks, but in the case of sake, they proceed simultaneously in the same tank. The former is called "multiple parallel fermentation",  while the latter is called "multiple parallel fermentation".

    Multiple parallel fermentation is unique to sake. Compared to wine and beer, it is a more complex and delicate fermentation.

    Food Pairing Difference

    There is a saying in Japanese that "nihonshu wa ryori wo erabenai", which can be translated as “sake isn’t picky about food” or “sake doesn't fight with food.” While for centuries gourmands in Europe have discussed matching wines of a particular site and vintage with particular foods, sake has no such history.

    Traditionally, the role of sake in Japanese cuisine was not necessarily to pair with food but to support and intensify it. Sake is also the backdrop that neutralises undesirable flavours and smells (especially in fish) and allows you to perceive the good flavours more clearly. Sake is also not very acidic, unlike wine, which would easily overwhelm many delicate Japanese foods such as sushi, sashimi, tempura, etc.


    While both sake and wine are usually drunk straight, sake is said to have the widest range of temperature range when drunk. Of course, there is mulled wine, a Chistmas favorite, but sake can be served cold at around 5°C or extremely hot at almost 60°C. Although premium sake, which has delicate taste and complex aroma (think Junmai Ginjo or Junmai Daiginjo), is usually served chilled in wine glass, which means that the way to drink sake depends greatly on the grade of sake.

    Sake Recommendation

    To experience how sake pairs well with any food , we recommend Tatenokawa Junmai Daiginjo Nakadori. Nakadori (literally "middle cut") is the name given to the part of the sake mash with the best balance of aroma and flavour. Made with Miyamanishiki, a sake rice variety cultivated by the brewery's sake rice research society, this is a sake that shows off the best characteristics of the rice: a deep sharp citrus like acidity. A slightly reserved nose lends itself to an expansive rustic flavour. A clean sake with a good balance of acidity that pairs well with all types of food.



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